SHEtalks: Self-tracking as personal science
In this talk, I revisit the Quantified Self movement, a community of practice concerned with the use and development of self-tracking tools for the purpose of self-improvement and health management (see https://quantifiedself.com/about/what-is-quantified-self/).
I discuss the ways in which Quantified Self practices and their data driven approach can be considered as “personal science,” a term first introduced by Martin and Brouwer in early 1990s and recently adopted by the Quantified Self community to describe its self-tracking activities and objectives. In doing so, I revisit some relevant arguments put forward by the philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer, vis-à-vis the value of the personal and hermeneutic dimension to understanding aspects of health and appreciating the limits of traditional medical methods and their generalising approach. Drawing on relevant examples, I discuss how self-tracking can be seen, at once, as a way of reclaiming autonomy and control over one’s health and physical activity as well as a form of outsourcing decision-making to technology itself.
This discussion leads me to differentiate between active and passive self-tracking, and between members of the Quantified Self circle who build their own tools and the general users who rely on the commercial tech solutions available on the market. Ultimately, I suggest that the Quantified Self community can act as a “guru” for mainstream self-trackers by nurturing a critical and inclusive approach to technological development and use, which can enable users to be involved in the means of production and become experts rather than just users.
About Btihaj Ajana
Btihaj Ajana is Professor of Ethics and Digital Culture at the department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London. Her academic research is interdisciplinary in nature and focuses on the ethical, political and ontological aspects of digital developments and their intersection with everyday cultures. She is the author of Governing through Biometrics: The Biopolitics of Identity (2013) and editor of Self-Tracking: Empirical and Philosophical Investigations (2018), Metric Culture: Ontologies of Self-Tracking Practices (2018) and The Quantification of Bodies in Health: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (2021). Ajana is also a filmmaker and uses film as a way of exploring social issues while bringing scholarly ideas to wider audiences. Her most recent films include Quantified Life (2017); Surveillance Culture (2017); and Fem's Way (2020).
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